Harbor Freight Tools USA accused of racial profiling against an African American male

INDIANAPOLIS– The Indiana Civil Rights Commission’s (ICRC) Deputy Director Akia Haynes announced today that the agency has issued a finding that there is probable cause to believe that Harbor Freight Tools USA in Indianapolis subjected an African American male to different terms and conditions by denying him equal access to their merchandise return services.

An investigation stemming from a Complaint filed on September 10, 2012 found that the complaining party was “red flagged” in the system as an individual who “rents” merchandise. Despite attempting to return the previously purchased merchandise within 90 days, as their policy permits, there are conflicting accounts as to whether or not he was permitted to return it.

“The issue before the Commission is whether this individual was “red flagged” due in part to his race and therefore was not allowed to return his previously purchased merchandise,” said Haynes, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission’s Deputy Director. “It’s important to note that the Indiana Civil Rights Law ensures equal access to products and services without regard to an individual’s race.”

During the investigative process, Harbor Freight Tools USA provided as evidence computer print-outs for other customers who were “red flagged” for similar offenses. However, these print-outs only identified customers by their first name and zip code which did not provide the information needed to compare them to the complaining party.

In order to prevail, the complaining party has to prove: (1) they fall within a protected class, (2) they were qualified, ready, willing and able to return purchases in accordance to Harbor Freight Tools USA’s terms and conditions, (3) they were denied the opportunity to return the merchandise and (4) Harbor Freight failed or refused to offer the charging party similar terms that were offered to customers from a comparable class.

Based upon the findings of the investigation, probable cause exists that an unlawful discriminatory practice has taken place. A public hearing is necessary to determine whether a violation of the Indiana Civil Rights Law occurred.

A finding of probable cause does not resolve a civil rights Complaint.  Rather, it means the State has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support reasonable suspicion that the Indiana Civil Rights Law has been violated. The Indiana Civil Rights Law provides remedies, including compensatory damages and injunctive relief, such as changes in the employer’s policies and training.

The Indiana Civil Rights Commission enforces the Indiana civil rights laws and provides education and services to the public in an effort to ensure equal opportunity for all Hoosiers and visitors to the State of Indiana. For more information, contact Brad Meadows, ICRC Communications Manager, at (317) 232-2651.